March 5, 2016 at 11:24 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT chamber of commerce launches in Dominican Republic

A group of business owners in the Dominican Republic this week officially launched an LGBT chamber of commerce. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group of business owners in the Dominican Republic this week officially launched an LGBT chamber of commerce. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce this week officially launched its latest international affiliate in the Dominican Republic.

Gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, were among the officials who attended the formal launch of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic that took place at a hotel in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo on Wednesday. U.S. Agency for International Development Mission Director for the Dominican Republic Alexandria L. Panehal and National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce CEO Chance Mitchell also took part in the event.

LGBT Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic President Francisco Castillo told the Washington Blade from the city of Punta Cana in which he lives that he and a group of other business owners last year began to talk about the “creation of a business space that would be inclusive and would focus on working with entrepreneurs and business owners from the country’s LGBT community.”

The organization now has more than 50 members.

“Members of the LGBT community at the technical and professional level will be visible for the first time and will begin to represent themselves from the business podium with dignity,” Castillo told the Blade.

Wednesday’s announcement took place at the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s fourth LGBT Summit of the Americas.

Advocates look to tourism to boost economic opportunity

The Center for Integrated Training and Research, a Dominican HIV/AIDS service organization, last year began working with government officials and travel industry representatives on a campaign designed to promote LGBT tourism in the Caribbean country. The Center for Integrated Training and Research, which is known by the Spanish acronym COIN, has also launched an initiative designed to expand economic opportunities for LGBT Dominicans.

Many Dominican advocates with whom the Blade has spoken have credited Brewster and Satawake with making the local LGBT community increasingly visible in recent years.

Brewster and Satawake last year took part in a Santo Domingo Pride parade. Deivis Ventura, a prominent LGBT rights advocate who is running for a seat on the Santo Domingo Municipal Council, told the Blade last June during an interview at his office in the Dominican capital that the gay U.S. ambassador “has forced the government to acknowledge the LGBT community.”

Gay U.S. ambassador, husband face backlash

Brewster and Satawake continue to face backlash from Dominican religious leaders.

A group of two dozen Dominican intellectuals and religious leaders earlier this year urged President Danilo Medina to declare Brewster “persona non grata” in the Dominican Republic. Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs to describe Brewster.

Hoy, a Dominican newspaper, reported that the National Progressive Force, a center-right political party, this week described the LGBT Chamber of the Commerce of the Dominican Republic as an “expression of cultural LGTB imperialism for which Ambassador Brewster has pushed.”

Dominican advocates also maintain that anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain serious problems in the predominantly Catholic country.

“Most LGBT professionals and technicians in the country have chosen not to be visible or not to be identified or associated with the LGBT conglomerate because of the fear of stigma, social condemnation and blocking of their opportunities,” Castillo told the Blade.

Castillo added the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of the Dominican Republic will help change this reality.

Wally Brewster, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, left, and his husband, Bob Satawake, at their official residence in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in June 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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